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The Battle of Tewkesbury re-enactment

For the last 33 years the second weekend in July marks the annual re-enactment of the battle of Tewkesbury. It's probably the largest regular medieval battle re-enactment in the world; attracting participants from across Europe. I've been attending since 2004, as a Knight on the Lancastrian side.

The battle of Tewkesbury (4th May, 1471) was one of the most important events of the Wars of the Roses. It ended with the death of the entire Lancastrian nobility, save for Margaret of Anjou who was imprisoned in the tower of London, and those forces operating under Jasper Tudor in Wales.

The causes of the battle

The Wars of the Roses began when Edward, Duke of York, proclaimed himself King. It was no secret that Henry VI was mad, and it was on that issue which Edward substantiated his claim. Yorkist forces defeated Henry's supporters in a series of engagements ending in the capture and imprisonment of Henry. Queen Margeret and her son, Edward, Prince of Wales fled to France. That might've been the end of it, if it weren't for Richard, Earl of Warwick; otherwise known as 'the Kingmaker'.

Warwick had sided with Edward of York and was a significant factor to the Yorkist victories. Warwick rightfully expected to receive significant reward for his contributions, but he was to be disappointed, slighted, and more than a little offended. So, as it was the age of high treason, Warwick's first thought was to swap sides and oust Edward. Unfortunately for Warwick, his plans failed and he joined Margaret of Anjou in exile.

Warwick returned with a largely mercenary force and briefly succeeded in re-establishing Henry VI as King before Warwick was killed in the Battle of Towton. At the same time, Margaret of Anjou along with the seventeen year old Prince of Wales landed in England. On receiving news of the defeat at Towton they decided to head for Wales and join with Jasper Tudor's forces.

The Battle of Tewkesbury

Yorkist forces under Edward rushed to intercept Margaret of Anjou. A race was on. The Lancastrians engaged in a strenuous forced march; abandoning much of their artillery which was picked up by the Yorkists. It was at Tewkesbury that Edward finally caught up with Margaret.

The Lancastrian force of some 6000 troops positioned themselves with a river protecting each flank. The Yorkists with 5000 held a slightly elevated position and had advantage in artillery and mounted troops.

The Duke of Somerset led the right flank of the Lancastrian army in a charge; expecting the rest of the army to follow. The rest of the Lancastrian army stayed put. Somerset's forces were quickly defeated. Somerset himself rushed back to the commander of the Lancastrian centre; Lord Wenlock, and dashed his skull in after accusing him of treachery.

With a third of the Lancastrian army either dead on the field or routed, it wasn't long before the rest of the army was routed. The young Prince of Wales was killed on the battlefield. In previous wars, Knights and members of nobility captured in battle would be held for ransom, but the wars of the roses were a different matter. Captured enemies were largely executed on the spot. Tewkesbury was no different. Some Knights and nobility took refuge in Tewkesbury Abbey. As consecrated holy ground, it was an unspeakable offence to draw blood on the site. However, the Lancastrians were dragged from the Abbey by the Yorkist victors and put to death.

With the Lancastrian cause utterly defeated, it was deemed safe to kill Henry VI. The exact details are murky; it was considered the greatest offence to commit regicide, but within three weeks of the battle of Tewkesbury, Henry VI was killed in the tower of London. This phase of the Wars of the Roses was followed by some fourteen years of peace until the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

The Battlefield today & the reenactment

Much of the battlefield has now been developed. The 'Bloody meadow' site of Somerset's rout is still there and now forms part of the Yorkist camp during the reenactment. The battle reenactment doesn't take place on the actual anniversary. In recent years the July reenactment has been marred by flooding of the battlefield. Many buildings around Tewkesbury display flags bearing the coat of arms of many of the particpants of the battle.

The reenactment takes place over the entire weekend. As well as the battle, visitors can enjoy falconry displays, puppetry, children's games, storytelling, music and a large medieval market with hundreds of stalls selling everything from armour and weapons to food, alcohol, toys, fossils, books and clothing. Saturday evening sees a reenactment of the executions outside the Abbey in Tewkesbury town centre; always worth a watch to see the condemned 'beheaded' before unconvincing severed heads are impaled. On the Sunday morning reenactors parade through the town (not usually any in armour).

The battle recreation itself usually has around 2000 participants. For safety reasons there are no cavalry, but there are Knights, billmen, archers, handgunners and artillery. The battle lasts about an hour.

If it interests you, sorry you've missed it for this year. However, the battle of Bosworth reenactment takes place on the weekend of 20/21 August. If you go, let me know how it is as it's not one which I attend myself!

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